Friday, February 29, 2008

Daring Baker Challenge: Julia Child's French Bread

This month the Daring Baker's challenge was Julia Child's French bread. I joined this baking group for one reason- to challenge my baking skills and learn in the process. Well, I sure did both of those things this month. Being not so fond of baking bread (as a result of my numerous less than perfect results) it forced me to dive into one of the most difficult breads of all- French Bread. The recipe was a little overwhelming at first sight- 16 pages, but after reading it a few times I found that it really was not all that complicated (ha-or so I thought). I set out to make my bread last Sunday, everything seemed to be working fine and even my husband who has made plenty of bread in his time helped a little. So we prepared the oven, got it all nice and steamy and put the bread in- The result was a crunchy crusty brick! I had to laugh, because after working on this recipe for most of the day (8 hours), I expected my bread to be gloriously good and what I created was far from it.

I think I may have established this before, but just in case I have not- I am a perfectionist. A French brick just is not going to do, so I started all over again. After trying to figure out the error of my bread making ways, I gathered it was the amount of flour and the time allowed for rising. "One cannot be a slave to the clock in making bread" Julia Child says. But when one has no idea what to look for- that seems like the logical solution and I can tell you, the lady is right- my method did not work so well. The 16 page recipe did explain what to look for- but I must have a yeast impairment (yes, that's my valid excuse).

Batch number two- pictured above was much better, I do realize I do still have a lot to learn though. I changed several things between the two batches. The fist batch was made in the mixer, I have a powerful 450 watt Kitchenaid so I thought it could handle it; the recipe cautioned about mixers overheating and I knew that would not be an issue. But then, I learned this has nothing to do with power, it's all about how the dough feels and I had a hard time figuring that out when it wasn't in my hands. The first baguette was tough, looked anemic and could actually be used as a weapon it was so hard. So for now, I will leave the mixer out of the bread making.

Batch number two I made by hand- much better, I was careful with the flour additions (paranoid to be exact) and allowed the dough to rise for a much longer period of time. The bread is far from perfect but a marked improvement from the first batch. I made a baguette, a Boule, and pan d'epi - the cuts could have been much better, I found using a razor blade and making a smooth cut to be harder than I expected. But, I am going to try really hard to not get OCD about this, I will instead read up on bread making and yeast, the more I understand the chemical reactions in the process the better off I will be. If you have any good suggestions for a book from where I might gain this knowledge- please leave me a note in the comments. The bread turned out pretty well, having a decent crumb and crust. This was a great challenge, it pushed me to learn by doing things which were out of my comfort zone.

Up until now bread has been more of a vehicle to carry all sorts of yummy toppings- (mostly butter laced with fluer de sel), not the main attraction itself, but hopefully as I become a more experienced bread baker that will change. The recipe can be found here.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Italian Country Rice Flan / Torta di Risso

This is another of my Italian favorites and also known as Torta di Risso. I have been working on this recipe for some time, I finally feel like it's good enough to share. Good quality Citron is sometimes very hard to find, but King Arthur Flour has it available on their web site. Do not use the candied fruit they sell at the grocery store that is traditionally used for fruit cakes. If you cannot find good quality citron, then just add some extra lemon rind in it's place.

The ratio of rice to milk may seem a little odd, but the finished product produces a rich custard like flan. After simmering at a slow boil for an hour the rice plumps up and most of the milk is absorbed. I keep the heat on medium-low and stir occasionally, scraping the side of the pot. If the rice mixture is not thick enough after cooking for an hour, continue to cook until it becomes thick like rice pudding.(it's more about how it looks rather than how long it takes to get there). I make the pastry by hand, you can use a food processor if you like. The pastry seems a little dry at first, but after all the ingredients are incorporated and while the dough is still in the bowl; I knead it lightly until it comes together into a ball. (I leave the dough in the bowl to knead so I don't have to add additional flour as a result of kneading it on the counter). For the topping, you may use lattice work or lay horizontal pieces of dough like I did (see photo). The recipe calls for an 8" spring-form pan, you could substitute a 9" pan which is a more common size. The only difference if you use a larger pan is it will be a little flatter and will cook for a shorter period of time.

Italian Country Rice Flan / Torta di Risso


2 cups (300 grams) all- purpose flour
200 grams butter (3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg


3 3/4 cups whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup arborio or other short grain rice
4 eggs
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup chopped citron
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
grated zest of 1 lemon
grated zest of one orange
powdered sugar mixed with a little cinnamon for topping for sprinkling on top if desired

1. Sift flour into a very large bowl, then using a pastry blender, cut in butter evenly. Lightly mix in sugar and egg to make a dough. Shape into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

2. In a heavy bottomed medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk, sugar and butter to a boil. Stir in rice; reduce heat and simmer gently for 1 hour. Stirring occasionally until mixture is thick and creamy, (the milk should be almost all the way absorbed, the mixture should be very thick). Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

3. In a large mixing bowl, beat eggs, cream cheese, citron, lemon and orange zest and cinnamon to combine. Gradually stir into rice mixture and allow to cool.

4. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll out two thirds of the dough to fit an 8" spring-form pan. Cover the sides and bottom of the pan. Pour rice mixture into pan.

5. with the remaining dough, make a lattice over the rice. Bake 45-50 minutes, covering with foil if starts becoming too brown. Do not unmold until completely set. Sift cinnamon laced powdered sugar on top if desired. Serve at room temperature.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Cannellini Spread / White Bean Dip

I don't know about you, but I love the versatility of good quality canned beans. Not all canned beans are alike though, and I also find that I like different brands for for different beans. For garbanzo beans I like Progreso, but for Cannellini beans I like Eden Organic which I buy at Whole Foods. I like them not only because they are organic, but also because the beans are consistently whole, perfectly cooked (not crunchy), and don't have that slimy liquid usually found in canned beans. I wanted a spread bread which would come together quickly and this fit the bill perfectly. I usually make pita bread when I make this for a party, but time did not allow for that today. Soon I will post my pita recipe- it is super easy and fun to make.

I added a variety of herbs to enhance the flavor and lemon juice for a little acidity and to make the flavors pop. I used two 15 oz cans, but only processed 1-1/2 cans in the food processor- I added the reserved beans to the dip once it was ready to give it a little texture and garnish with. When I have roasted garlic on hand, I add a clove or two- roasting the garlic makes it sweet and mellow. The recipe makes 2 cups, it keeps in the refrigerator for at least a week- but I find we usually eat within a day or two- it's quite good.

Cannellini Spread / White Bean Dip

2 15 oz cans white beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons coarse sea salt (Fleur de sel)- or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoon fresh Rosemary
1 tablespoon fresh Thyme

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food processor and blend until smooth. Serve with sliced French baguettes or grilled pita bread.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy Peanut Sauce

I have been craving this salad for some time now. I have seen various versions of it in cookbooks, but the peanut dressing recipes I have seen have not appealed to me. I finally got my peanut sauce down and could not wait to make the noodle salad. I like linguini for this recipe, but regular spaghetti or fettuccini noodles would work fine as well. In the summer, I would probably replace the baby corn with fresh corn, but canned baby corn works fine in the winter. I made a generous chiffonade of mint and cilantro and basil, I needed lots of green in my salad. To make a chiffonade, roll your herbs as if you were rolling a cigar then with a sharp knife slice the "cigar".

Toss a little sesame or vegetable oil (a teaspoon or less), into the noodles after they drain, it will keep them from clumping together. Shredded rotisserie chicken would be a great addition to add some protein. I also seasoned them at the table with Siracha sauce- I like spicy. When thinning the peanut sauce for the noodles, add the water a little at a time until it's the consistency of honey.

This past weekend I went to the farmers market and found the most beautiful purple carrots, I used them here. Almost any vegetable will work well in this salad, other good additions are celery, zuchinni, squash, broccoli and spinach. I like slicing the vegetables in different shapes to add texture.

Asian Noodle Salad with Spicy peanut Sauce

1 lb. linguini, cooked al dente in salted water
1 red bell pepper, sliced thinly
2 carrots (I used orange and purple), julienned
1 can water chestnuts, sliced
1 cup canned baby corn
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 cup mixed herbs (basil, cilantro, and mint) chopped (read about chiffonade above)
1 teaspoon fresh ginger, minced
1 recipe peanut sauce found here
1/4 cup chopped salted peanuts for sprinkling on top

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl. Whisk 2 cups peanut sauce with up to 3 tablespoons of water to thin it out a little bit. Add peanut sauce to noodles and vegetables and toss together until evenly coated. Garnish with chopped peanuts and herbs. Serve warm, cold or at room temperature.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Peanut Sauce / Dressing

I have been wanting to make a peanut sauce and dressing for a while now. I made my first batch yesterday and wow- nasty. I quickly found out it was, I purchased some Mae Ploy which the recipe called for at the Vietnamese market, maybe it was the brand or variety I used, but oh my goodness my finished product was umm...nasty! I think it is the first thing I have ever made that even I would not eat. Scary. This made me a little more skeptical of ingredients I am not all that familiar with, so I then decided if I did not like the ingredient outside of the sauce- it would not go in it.

I started over by mixing the ingredients I knew would work- peanut butter, light soy, dark sesame oil, and a little red curry paste. That was my base and from there I added the rest of the ingredients a little at a time until I had the right combination. I liked my finished product and my goal now is to learn more about Asian ingredients.

The Vietnamese market I shop at has a wonderful selection of sauces and noodles, the problem is the language barrier- I don't speak Vietnamese and the proprietor does not speak very much English. He has led me to some good finds though, Three Crab brand fish sauce and Kikoman Special Soy Sauce which to my surprise were both light and not as salty as others I've had. Slowly I'll figure it out- my likes and dislikes. Mae Ploy is definetely in the dislike column at the moment, but I will make an effort to find out more about it. (The Three Crab fish sauce is very good- I highly recommend it).

I made the peanut sauce for a Noodle dish I've been craving, I will post about it over the next few days. The sauce got better the next day as the flavors started to come together. Adjust the heat to taste with the curry paste, but take note- it tasted spicier the following day after the flavors came together. The peanut sauce would be great as a salad dressing or dipping sauce also.

Peanut Sauce

1 1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
1/4 cup sesame oil
1/2 cup mild soy sauce
1/3 cup Kecap Manis (medium sweet soy sauce)
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
1/4 teaspoon Thai red curry paste
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced

1. Place all ingredients in the bowl of a food precessor and blend until smooth.
Store covered in the refrigerator.

Monday, February 18, 2008

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

After making frilly cookies for the last couple of weeks, I was craving something chunky and easy. These white chocolate macadamia cookies are crunchy, if softer cookies are more your style, underbake them by a minute or two and remove them from the cookie sheet soon after they come out of the oven. I took these to a crawfish boil today and they were a hit- everyone wants something sweet after eating lots of salty crawfish. (specially me)

Softened butter contributes to the crunchyness of the cookie, microwave the butter for 10 seconds intervals if it's coming straight out of the refrigerator. After adding the egg and vanilla, reduce the speed of the mixer so the dough does not get over mixed. Cashews are a good substitution for macadamia nuts if you prefer. Use the best quality white chocolate available, I use Callebeut and cut it into chunks with a sharp knife. Toasting the nuts at 350 F for 10 minutes heightens their flavor, just be sure to let them cool before adding them to the dough. Bake six cookies at a time on the middle rack of the oven, make sure to put cookies on a cool pan for each batch. The recipe makes 15-16 very large cookies.

White Chocolate Macadamia Cookies

1/4 lb. butter, softened
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 3/4 cups flour
1 1/4 cups chopped white chocolate
1 cup toasted macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 325 F

1. Place softened butter in mixer bowl,with paddle attachment, beat until light and fluffy. Add sugar and continue to beat at medium-high speed for 3 minutes, scraping the side of the bowl until incorporated.

2. Add egg and vanilla and beat for 2 additional minutes on med-low speed.

3. Sift flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder into a large bowl. Add to the butter mixture and beat on low until dough comes together. Add chocolate and nuts and blend well.

4. With clean hands, make balls of dough approximately the size of a golf ball or a little larger. Lay on parchment lined sheets and flatten out to a 2 inch circle. Place six cookies per cookie sheet (3 inches apart) and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove cookies with a large spatula and transfer to a cooling rack. Store cookies in a covered container.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Moist and Light Blueberry Muffins

What can I make for a Saturday morning breakfast when there is only one lonely egg in the house? Blueberry muffins! These are my most favorite muffins- not too dense, not too sweet and full of fresh plump blueberries. I used almost all the eggs last night for the dogs dinner- yes, I cook for my babies every night. After the dog food scare last year, I just felt uneasy feeding them the store bought stuff. Since then, both the goldens have just blossomed, all the paw licking stopped (usually caused by allergies), their coats are shinnier and all around they seem more energetic and happy. I read up on all the do's and don'ts about dog food and have not looked back since.

Back to the muffins. I use cake flour because I find it makes the muffins lighter. I gave both the weight and measurement for the flour, if you have a scale use it- I find when measuring flour specially, it is essential. I have a small inexpensive one ($30 or less), it is the most used tool in my kitchen when I bake. The scale converts grams into ounces, which comes in quite handy when I make recipes found in European cookbooks or web sites. I coat the blueberries in a little (about a tablespoon) of flour mixture before adding them to the batter, I find that step keeps them all from sinking to the bottom.

When making muffins, do not overbeat the batter, I whisk the ingredients together separately then combine them and stir just a few times to incorporate the dry and wet ingredients together. After adding the dry ingredients to the flour, use a wooden spoon not a whisk to stir together briefly. Finish combining the ingredients once the blueberries are added- and I know I will sound a little nutty by telling you this, but you should not stir more than 15-20 strokes; it is more like folding than beating and doing this will keep the muffins light and moist. I use a topping of large sugar crystals, this makes the tops of the muffins a little crunchy. When I have it, I use vanilla infused sugar (see photo). I have also used regular sugar which has been infused with vanilla. To make vanilla sugar, fill a jar with sugar, insert a vanilla pod and let it infuse for at least a week; it's great for sweetening coffee too.

Blueberry Muffins

12-1/2 ounces cake flour (3 cups)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup sour cream (can be substituted with yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 cups blueberries, (1 pint)
1/4 cup vanilla sugar for sprinkling tops
paper liners or buttered muffin tins

Makes 18 muffins

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Sift all dry ingredients into a large bowl and set aside. In a small bowl toss blueberries with about 1 tablespoon of flour mixture and set aside.

2. Whisk all wet ingredients together and mix well.

3. Add wet ingredients to flour mixture and mix with a wooden spoon until just barely combined. add blueberries and mix lightly. Do not over mix.

4. With an ice cream scoop fill muffin pan almost all the way to the top. top with sugar generously and bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Remove muffins from pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. They will keep for 3-4 days covered at room temperature.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Rigatoni with Italian Sausage and Peppers

This is a great pasta dish, the Italian sausage gives the dish a lot of flavor. The rigatoni is robust and rustic, I finish cooking the pasta in the tomato sauce to impart more flavor to it. The dish is a little spicy, which I love, the heat can be adjusted to your taste by the amount of red pepper flakes and freshly ground black pepper added.

When sauteing, keep the vegetables moving by stirring and scraping the pot. Undercook the pasta by a couple of minutes and add it to the simmering sauce, it will finish cooking there and take on all the flavors of the dish. This is good dish for a weeknight meal, specially when short on time- it comes togther in 20-30 minutes.

Rigatoni with Italian Turkey Sausage and Peppers

1 lb. box Rigatoni Pasta
1 cup chopped onion
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 Italian sausage links, sliced
2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup chopped fresh Basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh Oregano
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (about 1 teaspoon pepper)
1/3 cup Marsala
1/4 cup sugar

1. Cook rigatoni in boiling water until almost al dente. ( if you start boiling the water at the time you start the sauce, the pasta will be ready at the same time the sauce is- drain the pasta and place it in the sauce to finish off).

2. In a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat, heat olive oil until hot but not smoking. Add the onions and bell peppers and saute until onions start to brown around the edges. Add sausage, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, continue cooking and stirring until sausage is lightly browned.

3. Add crushed tomatoes and cook for 3 minutes longer, scraping the sides of the pot with a wooden spoon. Add remaining ingredients and continue to cook over low heat. When pasta is ready, drain and add to the sauce. Turn heat to simmer, and continue to cook for an additonal 5 minutes. Serve with fresh Basil and shaved Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies

Happy Valentine's Day!
For me Valentine's day usually means a very busy restaurant and lots of baking. I probably made more cookies this week, than I did for Christmas (and I made a lot of cookies for Christmas!). I've made heart-shaped cupcakes, chocolate cakes, strawberry cakes, chocolate mousse, sugar cookies, Tiramisu, strawberry tarts and raspberry linzer cookies. Tomorrow I will bake tres leches cake and make sure we have plenty of creme brulee. I made these early in the week since they are a little time consuming, but well worth the effort.

I found the easiest way to decorate these is to melt the raspberry jam and spread a thin layer on the base. Work with one cookie at a time, while the jam is still hot and press the top cookie onto the base. (to glue it together). After all the cookies have been put together, sprinkle with powdered sugar- I use snow sugar since it doesn't melt. Snow sugar can be found at baking suply store or online at King Arthur Flour, they have a great selection of wonderful flours and baking essentials. After the cookies have been sprinkled with sugar, fill the hole with more melted jam. The first time I made these, I did had not yet figured these steps out and I ended up with sticky oozing cookies which were yummy, but were a total mess because I put too much jam between them.

Raspberry Linzer Heart Cookies

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (2- 1/2 sticks or 3/4 cup)
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1-1/2 cups ground almonds
2 cups flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
rasberry jam
Powdered sugar or Snow sugar

Preheat oven to 350F

1. In a large mixer bowl, cream sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add egg and conitnue to beat until incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add vanilla and almond extract and mix well.

2. In a separate bowl, combine almonds, flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Sowly add flour mixture to butter mixture and combine on low speed until incorpoarted and a dough forms.

3. Gather dough, (if dough is a little wet, pull it together with floured hands) then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

4. On a generously floured surface, roll half of dough out to 1/8" thickness (cookies will be thin since 2 are put together). Cut out an even number of hearts, ( I get 24 tops and 24 bottoms). Place the bottoms on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake for approximately 15 minutes.

5. For the tops: place whole hearts on cookie sheet, then cut a small heart out of each. (cutting the small heart after the tops are on the cookie sheet helps them keep their shape- since the dough is a little soft, it's easier to transfer a whole heart than a heart "ring"). Bake for 12-15 minutes. Cookies just be just a little golden, the tops will cook faster than the bottoms so watch them carefully.

6. After cookies have cooled, heat the raspberry jam for about 35 seconds in the microwave. Spread a little jam on the bottoms, then gently press tops on. Sprinkle with powdered sugar, then fill the hole with additional jam. Allow the cookies to set for a little while before serving.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Brandied Apricot Beignets

A few weeks ago I noticed Peabody and Tartelette were holding a donut event called- Time to make the Doughnuts. Doughnuts usually have yeast and since yeast and I are not really very well aquainted, (that is one of my resolutions this year though- to end the fear of yeast!), I figured I really did not have much to contribute. But then, the March issue of Bon Apettit arrived and it changed everything. I saw a recipe for Brandied Apricot Beignets- I altered it a little by adding more fruit and brandy, not serving them with chocolate sauce and instead showering the golden little fritters with lots of powdered sugar. They turned out delicious, Jack proclaimed I was the best mom ever- after eating about 5 of them. (yup- ever!)

The beignets are not the traditional French variety- you know, the ones that require yeast; instead they have a choux paste as the base for the dough. They remind me of the Bunuelos of my childhood which were drizzled with an orange flower infused honey syrup. The recipe came together quickly, next time I will probably double it though because it only yielded 12 beignets, half of which were gone before I took the first photo.

If you have a fryer, by all means use it for the frying, I used a heavy pot with a clip-on thermometer and constantly adjusted the heat to keep the temperature where it needed to be. If the oil is too hot the beignets will brown very quickly and not cook all the way through; while if the oil is too cool, the beignets will be greasy. The beignets will start out like a dense little dough ball, then as they cook they will expand and puff. A good beignet should have a hollow inside. I fried one beignet by itself to test things out and I pulled it out too early, it was browned on the outside, but had not puffed and the inside was still doughy and raw. For the rest of them, I watched the thermometer very closely and let them fry until they were puffed and golden brown. Keep a pan lined with paper towels in a warm (200 F) oven to keep the beignets warm. The choux paste can be made ahead of time and kept at room temperature up to 4 hours.

Brandied Apricot Beignets

1/2 cup dried apricots, chopped
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup brandy

1/2 cup whole milk
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

vegetable oil for frying (at least 4 cups)
powdered sugar

1. Bring apricots, sugar, 1/4 cup water and brandy to a boil in a maduim saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and steep, covered for 30 minutes. Drain the apricots and set aside.

2. In a medium heavy sauce-pan over high heat combine 1/2 cup water, butter and milk and bring to a boil. Stir until the butter melts, then remove from heat. Add flour; stir briskly until dough gathers into a ball. Reduce heat to medium and place pan back on heat. Stir constantly until a film forms on the bottom of the pan, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat, cool for 5 minutes.

3. Using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat in eggs one at a time. Add apricots and beat to combine.

4. Preheat oven to 200F. Line a large baking sheet with paper towels.

5. Pour oil in a large deep saucepan to a depth of 1-1/2 inches. Attach a deep-fry thermometer to the side of the pot. Heat oil to 330-340 F. Working in batches, drop 5 rounded spoonfuls of dough (I use a small ice cream scoop). Cook beignets until golden brown, adjusting heat to maintain correct temperature.(specially after each addition) Turn the beignets after a couple of minutes, they should fry for about 8 minutes total and be golden and puffed. Using a slotted spoon, trandfer to baking sheet in oven and keep warm while you fry the rest.

6. Serve generously sprinkled with powdered sugar.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Goat Gouda Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

I love pimento cheese, not the yellow stuff you buy at the grocery though. I like home-made pimento, made with Goat Gouda and roasted red and yellow bell peppers. When I used to serve afternoon tea, I was constantly having to come up with new recipes and ideas for sandwiches to keep on the menu. This Goat Gouda pimento made it's regular appearances and was always a favorite.

I use bottled roasted red peppers, then dice them and mix them in with the cheese and mayonnaise. As for the mayonnaise, I like to make my own (it's very easy). If you would rather use the store bought variety, Hellman's or Duke's brand mayonnaise are the creamiest.

I like the Goat Gouda, but a smoked or plain cow's milk Gouda work very nicely as well. I used a 14 grain bread, but most any bread would work well- use your favorite. If I am making small tea sandwiches, I sometimes make them ahead of time. I cover the sandwiches with a slightly damp tea towel and refrigerate them until I need them. The towel will keep the sandwiches from drying out, but I never make them more than a couple of hours ahead. If you are using these for a party, you can make the pimento a couple of days ahead, then just assemble the sandwiches on the day you need them. This pimento is also a really good cheese to serve with crackers.

The Goat Gouda pimento also makes the most wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches. Use a sourdough bread (or if you are like my child- use Texas Toast), fry them in a generous amount of butter for a few minutes on each side or until golden. I have also made Crostini with the Pimento, spread on buttered slices of French bread and toast in the oven until melted. They are both a great accompaniment to roasted tomato basil soup which I will make when summer tomatoes are back in season.

Goat Gouda Pimento Cheese Sandwiches

1 cup grated Goat Cheese Gouda
1 jar roasted bell peppers (I use about 1/3 cup, chopped)
1/2 teaspoon fresh Thyme
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
salt to taste (I always use sea salt)
1/3 cup home-made mayonnaise (look for it in the index on the right)

1. In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and season to taste with salt.

2. Assemble sandwiches and cut into quarters with an electric knife if making tea sandwiches, serve cold or at room temperature.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Basic Home-Made Mayonnaise

There is no comparison between home-made mayonnaise and store bought. Now that doesn't mean I don't ever use the store bought variety, I do- but when I have the time (and the energy) I would rather make my own. By now you may be wondering why I am posting about mayonnaise- well, I am making Goat Gouda Pimento and I am posting about it in parts.

You can flavor the mayonnaise with just about anything you like, this is a basic recipe- like a blank canvas. These are some suggestions: fresh herbs of any kind, roasted garlic, a pinch of dry mustard, a little sherry vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, capers, and many many more. This is also my base for making dips for crudites, mixing the mayonnaise, some herbs, capers and lemon with either yogurt or sour cream. My favorite is flavored with a pinch of dry mustard, sea salt and a little fresh Thyme.

I like to make mayonnaise with a good whisk and a bowl. Call me weird, but I actually like the process. I specially like the fact that you start with two egg yolks and end up with fluffy creamy mayonnaise. If you are not inclined to make it by hand, a blender or food processor will work well. Add the oil in a steady slow stream while the motor is running.

Home-Made Mayonnaise

2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. In a large non-reactive bowl (do not use copper or aluminum because it will discolor the mayonnaise due to the acid), combine egg yolks, salt and lemon juice; whisk until light.

2. While whisking start adding the oil a few drops at a time, when mayonnaise starts to thicken you may add the oil in a steady slow stream. Make sure the oil is getting incorporated as you whisk. Continue to whisk and add oil until all oil is used and mayonnaise is light and very fluffy. After the mayonnaise rests for a bit it will thicken a little more.

3. Mayonnaise will keep covered, in the refrigerator for 1 week.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Triple Chocolate Raspberry Triffle

I made this triffle for the Culinate Chocolate Contest which was held last week. It was fun entering an online contest and I always love a challenge.

Triple Chocolate Raspberry Triffles- They are mini triffles (ok, not so mini- large enough to be shared by two). The layers start chocolate sponge cake drizzled with Framboise, filled by fresh raspberries topped with white chocolate pastry cream. The fourth layer is a yummy Chocolate Mousse-then cake, raspberries, pastry cream and mousse again topped with white, milk and dark chocololate curls.

All of the parts of the triffle require some folding. The sponge cake does not have any leavening in it, it rises because of the whipped eggs so you must be careful to whip when required and gently fold at the end when combining the ingredients. This is a good explanation I found online to explain folding. ( Just in case someone doesn't have much experience with this technique- I was having a hard time putting it into words!)

Triple Chocolate Raspberry Triffle

Chocolate Sponge Cake

1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/3 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 large eggs, separated (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1- 9" cake pan or springform pan, buttered and bottom ined with parchment paper.

Preheat oven to 350F

1. Sift together flour, cornstarch and cocoa onto a piece of parchment paper and set aside.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk egg yolks and half of the sugar until combined. Whip on medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to another large bowl and set aside.

3. In a clean, dry mixer bowl, whip the egg whites and salt on medium speed until they hold a soft peak. Continue to whip while slowly adding the remaining half of the sugar and vanilla. Whip until the whites hold stiff peaks.

4. Gently fold the whites into the yolks. (they do not have to complately incorporate to one another at this point, because you will continue to fold when adding the flour).

5. Sift the flour mixture over the eggs, slowly and gently fold everything together. (the batter should be thick and foamy). Spread batter into prepared pan and smooth top with a rubber spatula. bake for 25-30 minutes or until firm to the touch. Set aside to cool.

Chocolate Mousse

6 oz. bittersweet chocolate
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Framboise
3 eggs, separated, (room temperature)
3 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks and chilled.

1. Heat water in a medium saucepan over medium heat. In a heat proof bowl (or bain marie) combine chocolate, butter and franboise. Stir until melted and combined then remove bowl from heat and set aside.

2. Over the same simmering water, combine egg yolks, 3 tablespoons water and 3 tablespoons sugar in a large bowl. (I use a copper mixing bowl). Whisk together until pale and fluffy- it should have the consistency of marshmellow cream and should take about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. In a the bowl of an electric mixer, whip egg whites until foamy, add 1/4 cup sugar slowly and increase speed to medium high. Whip until stiff peaks appear.

4. Combine egg yolks and choclate mixtures by gently whipping together. Add about half of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture and gently FOLD together, adding the whites in two stages will make them easier to incorporate. Add remaing whipped egg whites and fold again, do not over mix. Add whipped cream and fold together until just incorporated.

White Chocolate Pastry Cream

1/2 lb. white chocolate, chopped
3 cups whole milk
2 vanilla beans, scraped
8 egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons unsated butter
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. In a medium heavy saucepan over medium low heat, bring milk and vanilla beans to a simmer. While milk is heating, whisk together sugar and cornstartch in a small bowl. Add sugar and cornstarch to milk and whisk to combine. Whisk constantly- specially around the edges of the pot so it doesn't start to stick.

2. Put egg yolks in a small bowl and lightly whisk, then temper egg yolks by adding 1/2 cup of milk mixture. Slowly add egg yolk mixture to milk and whisk constantly. Continue to whisk until boling- after a few bubbles appear, remove from heat.

3. Add chopped white chocolate and butter and stir until the chocolate is melted and all ingredients are combined. Add vanilla, stir to mix well then cover with plastic wrap (lay the plastic directly on the cream to prevent a skin from forming). Set aside to cool.

To assemble the triffle you will need additional Framboise and fresh raspberries.

Cut the sponge cake to fit your triffle bowl, layer cake then drizzle with framboise, layer with berries, white cholate pastry cream, and choclate mousse until you reach the top- ending with mousse and raspberries. Garnish with shaved chocolate and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Dutch Apple Pancake

On my last trip to visit my friend Sharman in Virginia, she made this apple pancake for breakfast. She clipped it out of a magazine a long time ago and it's a favorite of her adorable children. Soon after we got home it became a favorite here as well. The pancake is baked in the oven in a cast iron skillet, but a stainless skillet will work fine too. As for the apples, I usually keep Pink Lady's in the fruit bowl, but they are out of season so I used a Granny Smith; whatever apple you prefer will work well. You may mix the batter in a blender or food processor.

I either sprinkle powdered sugar with cinnamon on top after it comes out of the oven or drizzle with honey, she only uses the cinnamon as she thinks sugar is the worst of evils. About two years ago, when her kids were still toddlers and she was at the height of her sugar aversion, she actually sent me home with anti-sugar propaganda. I just smile and humor her. She does make some very good points, but I'm a hard sell, specially since I happen to be addicted to sugar. (Sitting here typing and eating my chocolate truffle for my mid afternoon sugar fix!)

I love it when people share their recipes freely- and this I can always count on Sharman for. Regardless of where the recipe came from- grandmother's favorite or a magazine, she is always happy to share. We have a lot of fun sharing our recipes with one another and talking about food- and everything else you might think girls talk about!

Dutch Apple Pancake

1 large apple, cored, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons butter (1/2 stick)
4 large eggs
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup flour
3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

powdered sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling on top

Preheat oven to 375 F

1. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a ten inch skillet with an open proof handle. (I use a cast iron skillet).

2. Saute apple slices in butter in skillet for 3 or 4 minutes, then arrange in a single layer in pan and set aside.

3. Mix eggs, sugar, flour, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and salt in a blender or food processor. Pour over the apples and bake for approximately 15-18 minutes. The pancake should be puffed and golden around the edges.

4. You may either leave the pancake in the pan and cut slices out, or flip it out onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and powdered sugar or drizzle with honey.

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